A Bit of History and Nature in Charleston, South Carolina- Charleston Sole Walking Tour and The Center for Birds of Prey

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Charleston, South Carolina many times. It’s a city I’ve grown to love as I’ve explored in an ever-expanding radius around the historic area of Charleston. I’ve been to all of the main beaches including Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Edisto Beach, and Kiawah Island. Last year I went on a nature boat tour to the uninhabited island Morris Island, which I highly recommend checking out. I’ve been to numerous historical sites, but I had never been on a historical walking tour of Charleston, that is until recently.

I chose Charleston Sole Walking Tours for a historical walking tour. I’m just not a big fan of carriage rides, which seem to be over-priced and just skim the surface if you want an in-depth explanation of the architecture and history of an area. Our guide was Fin, a retired teacher, and he did a great job explaining everything along the way of our 2-hour tour that covered about a mile and a half.

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The Huguenot Church, also called the French Huguenot Church or the French Protestant Church

Our walking tour began outside the Old Exchange Building, which I highly recommend going inside and taking a tour inside on your own sometime. Along the way we learned about Dock Street Theatre, the Old Slave Mart Museum, St. Michael’s Church, the Nathaniel Russell House garden, waterfront mansions on the Battery and Rainbow Row. We learned why Charleston is nicknamed “The Holy City” and were given an account of how President Lincoln’s “safer” decision to go to the theater instead of the battlefield in Charleston ended in his demise. In short, if you like history, Charleston is steeped in it, and this is a great way to understand some of the history behind Charleston.

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Pink House is the sixth-oldest building in South Carolina by year built (1712)

I also discovered a new area of Charleston, Awendaw, just north of Charleston, and a short drive from Mount Pleasant, where I’ve stayed many times. I was with a group of people so we needed to rent a large house, and the one I found in Awendaw was perfect for us. I bring this up because had we not stayed in Awendaw, I might not have learned about The Center for Birds of Prey.

We chose the guided tour and flight demonstration at The Center for Birds of Prey, but they also offer private educational programs, an annual musical event called Bird Songs, an annual gala, and an annual birding festival. The guided tour was led by a volunteer who said she had been volunteering her time there for the past 18 years, and she was obviously very passionate about the center. Almost all (I’ll explain this later) of the birds at the center are ones that were rescued either because they were injured or had imprinted on humans and thus were unable to function in the wild.

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Following our guided tour at The Center for Birds of Prey, we watched a flight demonstration in a huge open field that included hawks, falcons, owls, eagles, and vultures as the stars of the show. We learned about the birds’ hunting and flying techniques and watched in awe as a kite, a bird I wasn’t previously aware of, flew around without landing for the duration. Apparently kite birds can regularly fly all day without landing, soaring and gliding in thermals in search of food, eating dragonflies in mid-air.

We were free to explore the Exhibit Area after the flight demonstration, but only after getting to see newly hatched baby owls, which was an unexpected surprise for me. The center sometimes will breed owls to use for the flight demonstrations or to send to zoos around the United States who are searching for owls.

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The grounds are designed as a campus where visitors follow paths accentuated with aviaries housing more than 30 species of birds of prey. Although we would have liked to have spent more time exploring the grounds after our tour and flight demonstration (and checking out the baby owls), we were ready for lunch, so we decided to cut our self-led tour of the grounds short. We booked the morning tour, thinking it would be a bit cooler, but had we booked the afternoon tour, we probably would have stayed a bit longer to check out the grounds. There are tours every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 10:30 am and 2 pm. The Center for Birds of Prey is only about a 30 minute drive from downtown Charleston, so if you’re in Charleston, it’s easy to get to, and I highly recommend going here.

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Baby owls!

I was happy to get to see and do some new things on this visit to Charleston. It’s a city I never tire of, given all of the options here. In addition to going on the historical walking tour and The Center for Birds of Prey, I also went to the beach, the historical market, and ate at some outstanding restaurants, so I blended some of my old favorites with some new places.

Is there a place you find yourself returning to year after year for vacations? What do you love about the place? Do you discover new places every time you go or stick to the “tried and true”?

Happy travels!

Donna

Walking Tour of Santiago- My First Taste of Chile

My husband, daughter, and I just barely made our flight to Chile. We had a connecting flight through Atlanta which was delayed, so we had about 20 minutes to get from the terminal where we had flown into to the international terminal. This was the last flight of the day from Atlanta to Santiago, too, so if we missed the flight we would have had to wait until the next day. Atlanta airport is huge and has trains to connect the terminals because they’re so far apart. As soon as we got off the plane in Atlanta, we ran to the international terminal and were next-to-last to board the plane (one guy was right behind us). With huge sighs of relief, we were off to our South American adventure!

The flight from Atlanta to Santiago is about 9 and a half hours. Since we left at 10:30 at night, that means we arrived the next morning. Despite getting almost no sleep, the plan was to stay awake all day. Chile is on the same time zone as eastern standard time, so there was no time zone adjustment for us, which made it easier.

Surprisingly, our hotel, the fabulous and highly recommended 5 star Regal Pacific let us check in when we stopped by around 10:00 that morning. I was just going to see if we could drop our luggage at the front desk but they actually let us have our room, which was a pleasant surprise.  Our room was spacious, had very comfortable beds, and a great view of the city and the mountains. The hotel is in a great location, right by a metro station, close to restaurants, bars, and cafes, and has one of the most impressive free hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had. There is also a pool and spa. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend staying here. We had enough points through hotels.com that our night here was free!

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View from our room at the Regal Pacific

On our first day in Santiago we took the metro and had our own walking tour. Our first stop was Palacio de la Moneda. This huge building takes up an entire block that was once the Chilean mint now houses the president of Chile and other government offices. Not far from the Palacio de la Moneda is Bandera Street, where you can find many clothing stores.

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Palacio de la Moneda

If you continue down Bandera to San Pablo Street you’ll come to Mercado Central that’s full of fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. We stumbled upon Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago, truly one of the most ornate churches I’ve ever seen. My husband said he would place it in a tie with St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I didn’t take any photos inside because there were signs saying not to but here’s one of the outside.

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Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
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Sculpture in Plaza de Armas
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Plaza de Armas

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Not far from Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago is Plaza de Armas, a big square full of street entertainers, a fountain, an amphitheater, and the Museo Historico Nacional. Our final stop on our tour was my favorite, Cerro Santa Lucia, a place that is difficult to fully encapsulate all that it is. Cerro Santa Lucia is a park on a hillside with something new to see at every turn. There are cobblestone walkways, winding and steep stairways, gardens, fountains, turrets, towers, and some great views of the city.

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Cerro Santa Lucia
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View from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia
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Cerro Santa Lucia
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Cerro Santa Lucia

There are free walking tour groups available in Santiago. I thought about going with this group but decided to just go it on our own instead. While I’m sure there’s a lot of historical information we missed out on by not taking the tour, I just wasn’t feeling up to a 4-hour tour confined to a group. We were able to go to these places I mentioned here at our own pace and while I had specific stops in mind, it was fun to just wander around a bit!

One thing to note about Santiago, driving is not recommended. Although we picked up a rental car at the airport upon arrival for the latter portion of our vacation in Chile, we simply drove the car from the airport to the hotel, and parked it safely in the garage until we were ready to leave Santiago. We had no problem figuring out the Metro system and found it to be quick, reliable, cheap, and safe. I can’t say the same about driving in Santiago, as we found out when we came back the day we were flying out of Santiago. Driving in Santiago seems worse than driving in Manhattan (which I also wouldn’t advise to a tourist)!

Happy travels!

Donna